A PPP loan wasn’t the only thing that Element Indoor Golf Club and 21st Century Bank came together on.
When business partners Bradley Wohlers and Laurie Barger set out to fund their innovative small business idea – the young entrepreneurs faced immediate rejection. “We went through a lot of meetings with SBA lenders, and to be quite frank, we were laughed out of some meetings,” said Wohlers.
The Mahtomedi, MN native admits, their idea is different – but it had the potential to disrupt the entertainment market in the East Metro area of the Twin Cities.
The idea developed over time as Wohlers, an accomplished amateur golfer, realized the options for indoor golf practice was limited. Following his graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and a few years in the workforce, the then 26-year-old set out to open a state-of-the-art indoor golf facility. He joined forces with his partner Laurie Barger, a Monticello, MN native with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, and another Master’s Degree in Leadership. The pair created a thorough business plan, developed accurate financial projections, and sought funding – eventually meeting 21st Century Bank’s Blair Oklobzija
“They were passionate and knew what they were doing,” said Oklobzija, our Senior Vice President of Commercial Lending. After diving into the pair’s business plan and financials, 21st Century Bank determined an SBA 7(a) loan was the perfect fit. “This provided a lot of flexibility for them. Most of the loan went to buy equipment, but we provided them with working capital and nice terms to get them up and running,” said Oklobzija.
These loans are backed by banks and the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) and provide flexible financing options for individuals with limited credit history or businesses that do not qualify for a conventional loan. The SBA 7(a) Loans are popular for startups, giving business owners access to working capital for furniture, fixtures, leasehold improvements, and more.
Since January 2019, Wohlers and Barger have run Element Indoor Golf Club side-by-side, often working 12 to 15-hour shifts alongside 8 employees. They pride themselves in providing the best tools, technology, and resources to get golfers “In [their] element, against all elements.” The small business features top-of-the-line GOLFZON Simulator Technology, with options for all ages and experience levels. Between the technology investment and its fun, group-friendly atmosphere – the business is already seeing success.
“Blair always took us seriously, no matter what. Not every day someone comes to you with an indoor golf business. It’s a little different, and he always took us seriously and treated us with respect,” said Wohlers. “Any business owner would value their experience with 21st Century Bank. If their business is growing and they need funding, 21st should be their first stop.”
Element Indoor Golf Club is a seasonal business that doesn’t plan on doing a lot of business during the summer months. When the pandemic hit, it took away March and April, some of Element Golf’s biggest revenue months, so they were pretty worried about how they’d make it through the summer and whether they’d have enough cash to survive through the fall and winter.
“With so many unknowns around COVID, we weren’t even sure if we’d be able to open in the fall,” says Wohlers. “Luckily, we were able to open, but without the PPP loan from 21st Century Bank, we wouldn’t have been able to survive.” Element Indoor Golf Club was able to cover a month of business expenses with their PPP loan—exactly what they needed to survive their offseason and still have enough cash flow to make it through to their busy seasons.
When news of the PPP loan first came out, Wohlers wasn’t sure Element Indoor Golf Club would be eligible for it. He reached out to Blair Oklobzija, Senior Vice President Head of Lending, for answers. “He explained it all to us and made it so easy,” says Wohlers. “I didn’t have to do any research at all—I just talked to Blair and he made the process very simple.”
Taking out a PPP loan through 21st Century Bank was an easy decision for Element Indoor Golf Club. Their loan was small compared to other businesses, so they’re looking forward to applying for loan forgiveness.
“Everyone has to wear masks, obviously, and we’re losing out on a lot of the bigger events, corporate outings, and birthday parties,” says Wohlers. “But our business has been pretty steady since we opened up in early November. Things are looking up for us.”
Since state and local governments expanded the number of people who can sit at a table to 10, Element Indoor Golf Club hasn’t been impacted much by the safety rules. Their bays hold up to 6 people, so they haven’t had to change much.
“We took away some bar stools at the bar, but our space is designed well for a pandemic because it’s so spaced out,” Wohlers says. “We all wear masks when we’re working and try to send our servers out to the bays to take drink orders instead of having people walking up to the bar.” They also move people in and out of the building quickly to avoid congestion at the door.
Right now, Element Indoor Golf Club is focused on business as usual. They have leagues Monday through Thursday evenings so there’s always something going on during the week. During the day they’re pretty open, so there’s always the opportunity for those working from home to head to Element with their kids for a break from work.
One of the most recent additions to Element is their kitchen. During their first year of operation, they only offered frozen pizzas—that got old fast for their return customers who might spend 3–4 hours at Element Golf a couple of times a week. To meet the needs of their customers, Element Golf expanded their kitchen and food offering through a 7a small business loan from 21st Century Bank.
These days you’ll find high-quality “bar food” as well as wraps and sandwiches on offer at Element Indoor Golf Club.
“I can’t say enough good things about 21st Century Bank. If I ever do anything else in business, start another business, buy a building, buy property—anything—there’s no chance I’ll go to any other bank,” says Wohlers. “They’re the only bank that took a chance on us.”
“This is a great program for a lot of businesses,” says Oklobzija. “PPP took a lot of stress out of business owners’ lives, offering them the flexibility to keep their employed and their businesses afloat.”
And that’s exactly what the PPP loan did for Element Golf, giving them a bit of breathing room so they could go into their offseason with confidence that they’d come through the other side okay. “Every day that we’re open is a blessing. I don’t take it for granted,” says Wohlers.
Element’s hours are weather-dependent during summer months. In the winter, Element is open seven days a week – often late into the night. You can check out their hours, and other information about Element Indoor Golf Club, here.